Resilience is the ability to bounce back from life's difficulties. And, my biggest health challenge to this day, is learning to bounce back from Graves' Disease.
My granddaughter bouncing reminds me of the need to stay resilient.
Before I go into a little more detail about Grave's Disease, I want to share a definition of resilience (from the Stockholm Resilience Center):
Resilience is the long-term capacity of a system to deal with change and continue to develop. For an ecosystem such as a forest, this can involve dealing with storms, fires and pollution, while for a society it involves an ability to deal with political uncertainty or natural disasters in a way that is sustainable in the long-term.
Flora teach us about resilience.
Graves' Disease brings change - to our entire body. Perhaps that is why it is so challenging . . . because, for a small gland, it impacts so much of our health and happiness.
Graves' Disease is another term for hyperthyroid. However, having too much thyroid hormone can, on occasion, come from diseases other than Grave's disease.
Thyroid disease tends to be much more common in women. According to womenshealth.gov - about 10 X more common. That may be because it is frequently an autoimmune disease - meaning we make antibodies against our own tissue (in this case, the thyroid gland).
Normally, our immune cells are trained (something like basic training in the military) to recognize foreign invaders and to leave "self" alone. Autoimmunity results when our immune cells forget about this - and attack "self".
In women, the part of the immune system that produces antibodies is predominant - so we are more at-risk for autoimmune illnesses of most types. As this army of antibodies attacks thyroid cells, the attacked cells release thyroid hormone - and blood levels elevate. Our TSH (the hormone that stimulates the production of thyroid hormone) goes down, in an attempt to lower thyroid hormone levels.
Women are more at-risk if they have a family history of autoimmune thyroid disease. Pregnancy and menopause (times of changing hormones) are also times when we see spikes in the onset of thyroid disease in women.
For more detail on the physical workings of Graves' Disease - here is the womenshealth.gov link.
So, back to resilience and Graves disease - I believe this condition is more difficult to bounce back from than many. It tends to effect mood (we have a much greater response to the stress hormone, adrenaline, when we are hyperthyroid), and therefore, relationships. That is, we are more on-edge and - well - grumpier. And we don't look ill, so support from work colleagues can dwindle when we need it most.
There are basically three ways to treat the condition (see link above), but no matter what route someone chooses - it often involves having thyroid levels that are temporarily unstable. Thyroid hormones "talk" pretty directly to our neurotransmitters (the brain's messenger chemicals), so mood and energy are frequently effected.
I have no "one way fits all" route to resilience with Graves' Disease - though, I wish I did. I do have some suggestions, based on my own use of positive psychology and continued lessons that living with Graves' Disease brings to my life:
1. Try to get enough sleep - and when you are hyperthyroid, this may mean working with your healthcare provider to find a medication that works well for you. Thyroid is directly tied to sleep, and too much thyroid hormone often results in too little sleep. Sleep (7-8 hours) directly impacts wellbeing and happiness.
2. Focus on strengths in yourself and others - because that adrenaline is our "fight or flight" hormone and it is easy to wreck havoc on relationships during our hyperthyroid experience. Trying to counteract this is hard - I found that at least I was aware of the shift in my brain that was causing me to be angrier . . . and that awareness helped because I could make a gratitude adjustment when I felt that happening.
Focus on celebrating strengths we see in others.
3. Count your blessings . . . and meditate about them. There are several ways to build gratitude (which is the antidote, emotionally, to anger). Gratitude journals, writing down 3 good things everyday, or going out of your way to say thanks to others - these are all ways of building gratitude. I found that, in order to even clear my mind enough for this, I needed to use slow breathing techniques. (My gratitude adjustment video link (below):
I am sure there are many other ways that people with Graves' Disease have used to improve their health and happiness while living with this condition. Please feel free to share your experiences here!
Cathy Hartt, RN, MS, CNM
Midwife of Changes Wellbeing Coaching Services